Our friend Russ sent in this look at PJ20, which premieres October 21 on PBS and is also making limited theaterical rounds (HERE is a calendar of screenings). PJ20's soundtrack is available now, and/or a free track can be downloaded HERE.
It is impossible to watch Cameron Crowe's PJ20 and to not feel a pang of nostalgia for a time of Image Comics, baggy cheque pants and Wayne's World. Yet to resign this journey through the history of rock legends Pearl Jam to a mere trip down memory lane does both the film maker and the band a great disservice.
Pearl Jam defined the 'grunge' movement, the musical and cultural wave that swept the early 90s and arguably the last alternative music scene to take on a truely mainstream appeal on the youth of the day.
Arguably the most accessible of the bands born of the Seattle sound, Pearl Jam's 20 year history is chronicled in the movie PJ20, the centrepiece of that anniversary.
Film maker and long time PJ collaborator Cameron Crowe presents a documentary that charts those 20 years from formation in the wake of tragedy to milestones and formative points in the bands history, telling a story that in places stylistically echoes his own love letter to the music of his own youth, Almost Famous.
If you want commentary on the whole 'grunge scene' you would be better off checking out the movie 'Hype' on DVD, a far broader look at the Seattle scene.
PJ20 offers a refreshingly different take as Pearl Jam eschewed the legendary Sub Pop record label that was synonymous with Pearl Jam contemporaries, Soundgarden and Nirvana and is the focal point of many Seattle based rock stories.
Crowe, who interviewed the band early in their career for Rolling Stone and featured them in his Seattle-centric movie Singles, clearly connects with a band that has famously forgone press and record label demanded conventions. In turn the notably private rockers open the doors on aspects of the bands history and share their experiences in a way they may never do with another film maker.
Crowe is the instrument through which the band tell their story in a series of poignant moments that are far from the strict 'album by album' approach seen in other recent rocumentaries. The meeting of band members, the deaths of Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood and Kurt Cobain are all milestones in the bands history and are presented in heartfelt archive footage and new interviews with band members.
Likewise, the tragic death of fans during a Pearl Jam set in Denmark affected the band to the core and they speak about this with an uncharacteristic openess, further cementing how the band have committed to this project, opening their hearts and allowing others close to them, such as Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, rocker Neil Young and Crowe himself to offer their thoughts.
If Crowe is the instrument through which the band chronicle their history then this movie is truly a heart felt thank you to the friends and fans who have guided them on their 20 year journey.
As I glance around the theatre I notice there isn't a single person younger than their early 30's and this emphasises that Pearl Jam aren't bowing to any pressures to appeal to younger audiences and are indeed a band comfortable with the fact that they have peaked and passed their commercial success.
Pearl Jam have grown with their fans and in doing so you get the distinct feeling that if Pearl Jam decided not to play another show or record another album they would be entirely comfortable in that decision, again wearing their non-conformist ways on their sleeve. It may well be that same 'we're going to do it our way' approach that may be they key to their longevity and the sincerity of this movie.
Crowe crafts archive footage, current interviews and live performance as the films narrative is driven by the band, taking on an almost conversational tone and feel and while he forgoes the obligatory 'rock star at home being a family man (with the odd fleeting exception) he does present us with a more intimate insight than we have been given before. Front man Eddie Vedder in particular offers some pause for thought and insight into his famous intensity.
Is PJ20 for everyone? No, it is very much for the fans of the band or the era, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't check it out as Crowe offers us a rare insight of a band who really are 'doing it for the fans' and are very much still 'Alive'.